The controversial practice of pumping polluted water from drainage canals into South Florida’s ailing Lake Okeechobee creates toxic byproducts that threaten the public health of people who drink water in communities around Lake Okeechobee, a federal judge ruled today.
U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga issued an injunction requiring the South Florida Water Management District to immediately apply for federal NPDES pollution permits to engage in pumping the dirty water into the lake.
The SFWMD has contended for years that its controversial pumping practice should be exempt from the Clean Water Act. The judge’s order makes clear that the district must comply with the nation’s clean water rules, and that ignoring them puts people’s health at risk.
“This is a significant ruling, and marks a major milestone in the fight to clean up Lake Okeechobee,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest.
The Florida Wildlife Federation and other groups filed a legal challenge against pumping into Lake Okeechobee in 2002.
“The court found that this pumping creates a significant risk of triggering toxic algae blooms that can threaten human health and harm wildlife,” said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation.
“The district needs to start complying with the Clean Water Act and take the judge’s order seriously,” Guest said. “The Florida Department of Environmental Protection needs to start taking responsibility for making the South Florida Water Management District comply with the judge’s order.”